Friday, April 9, 2010

Interview: Author Steve Hockensmith Talks Dawn of the Dreadfuls, Civilized Horror and Bible Upgrades

With more than one million copies in print, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was the surprise publishing phenomenon of 2009. A best seller on three continents, PPZ has been translated into 17 languages and optioned to become a film starring Natalie Portman.

In this terrifying and hilarious prequel, we witness the genesis of the zombie plague in early-nineteenth-century England. We watch Elizabeth Bennet evolve from a naïve young teenager into a savage slayer of the undead. We laugh as she begins her first clumsy training with nunchucks and katana swords and cry when her first blush with romance goes tragically awry. Written by acclaimed novelist (and Edgar Award nominee) Steve Hockensmith, PPZII invites Austen fans to step back into Regency England, Land of the Undead! Now, Idle Hands takes a few moments to get to know the man behind the madness...

Idle Hands: How do you come to the perfect balance of classic courtesy, sensibility and the undead?

Steve Hockensmith: One of the things I love about the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies concept is that there is no perfect balance. The very premise combines things that are inherently unbalanced. It’s an elephant and a mouse on a teeter-totter. The result: comedy!

IH: Do you believe it is more important to be graphic to shock a reader or build tension to genuinely scare them? ..Or is this a moot point if the objective is to strike a humorous yet bloody tone like a great B horror movie?

SH: I think both kinds of scare have their place and work best when used together. Remember that elephant and that mouse on the teeter-totter? Well, shock-scares and dread-shivers are more like an elephant and a rhinoceros. They complement each other. A book or movie that’s all in-your-face shocks gets to be pretty boring eventually, in my opinion, and something that’s all mood and atmosphere is frustrating if it doesn’t pay off in a visceral way. Zombie stories probably lend themselves more to the graphic shocks, but I hope Dawn of the Dreadfuls has a well-nourished rhino to balance out that elephant.

IH: Where do you find inspiration? What horror movies create scenes you've kept with you?

SH: The two scariest things I’ve ever seen in movies are so simple it utterly destroys them to describe them...but what the heck, let’s blow ‘em up. For me, the spookiest image in The Exorcist isn’t Linda Blair in a fright wig. It’s when Father Karras dreams about his dead mother. He sees her watching him from across a busy street, then she turns and slowly walks down into a subway station. I mean, does that sound scary at all? But the way it’s shot and edited, it perfectly captures (A) the helplessness you feel when you’re trapped in an unpleasant dream and (B) the mysterious and terrifying finality of death. It’s chilling in the deepest way possible. In Dawn of the Dreadfuls, I pay homage to both that and the twins in The Shining (the moment when the kid almost runs into them on his Big Wheel is my fave movie scare #2) with a minor, throwaway bit most readers won’t even catch. What’s much more noticeable -- by design -- are the homages to George Romero. Extra bonus Fun Fact: The grand finale zombie battle was inspired by the 1964 war movie Zulu!

IH: What parts of the Bible would be best served by a horror overhaul?

SH: My friend, some parts of the Bible need no horror overhaul at all, because they’re already pretty horrific. You’ve got human sacrifice, rape, fratricide, stoning, locusts, rivers of blood (way before The Shining), baby-killing angels, women turned into pillars of salt, the murder of 99.9% of mankind by an angry god, a prophet’s head on a plate and a dude nailed to a tree. Last House on the Left has nothing on the Good Book.

IH: Do you think Macbeth and Hamlet would team up to fight Aliens, Killer Robots or Monsters?

SH: Let’s just pause to Hollywoodize this for a moment. First off, we’d need some diversity. Sure, Macbeth’s Scottish and Hamlet’s a Dane, but their both white guys, and that just won’t fly in the current marketplace. So either we flip one of the characters -- I kind of like the idea of “Black Hamlet” -- or we pull in another character altogether. Since Hamlet’s a bit of a whiny wuss, let’s bring in a man of action, like Macbeth. So now we’ve got Macbeth and Othello, the Elizabethan Gibson and Glover. As for what they should fight, I say let the focus group make the call.

Thanks to Steve Hockensmith and Quirk Books! For more info on any Quirk Books, hit up Dawn of the Dreadfuls is in stores NOW.

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